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Family Caregivers: Choose to Be Happy

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Easier said than done, right? Well, maybe not.

Working with family caregivers, I see a wide range of attitudes and emotions that exist within this large community of very special people. What I find especially interesting is that some family caregivers, faced with similar responsibilities, are happier and have a more positive attitude. Consequently, they navigate through their day-to-day responsibilities with less wear and tear.

To help understand what conditions influence the emotional well-being of family caregivers, my company, Caring Today, conducted a national survey delving into the attitudes and issues involved in the caregiver experience. Overall, nearly 60 percent of respondents found they felt very positive about their role as a family caregiver, saying it strengthened their relationship with a loved one. Also, it gave them the emotional benefit of feeling they were giving back the love that they had received.

Indeed, family caregivers who display positive emotions are found to be better prepared for their caregiver role. They make a concerted effort to maintain a "balanced" life, including: keeping personal relationships strong, eating properly, maintaining work schedules, getting adequate sleep and participating in hobbies. These caregivers are more focused. Those who had greater positivity worked hard at creating quality life-experiences. When interviewed, they clearly discussed their desire to focus on optimism and happiness.

The happiness factor is interesting.

Happiness means different things to different family caregivers. For some, happiness is a result of personal satisfaction. For others, it comes from a feeling of gratitude by appreciating what they have rather than what they lack. Others find happiness through a sense of inner joy. We found when a person truly believes achieving happiness is a realistic goal that belief becomes the bedrock to achieving it.

As a caregiver to my mom, I realized the major factor that most affected my personal happiness was the constant worry while she was dealing with significant health issues. In fact, what really blunted my happiness was the belief that I had little to no control over ANYTHING when it came to my mom's health. In this state of mind, even if circumstances were somewhat calm, I would still find myself projecting when the next shoe would drop. Before I knew it, I felt like a victim. I constantly feared the worst for my mom... and subsequently, for myself. Psychologists call these types of thoughts fortune telling or catastrophizing.

When I found myself slipping into this mindset, a quote by Mark Twain always seemed to come to mind. I found it particularly helpful, and I hope you do too:

"I am a very old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happened."

Without a doubt, if you think back over the past week or even month, how many misfortunes have you projected that didn't happen? I bet more than you imagined at the time. Personally, I found these overriding negative thoughts could easily be a drag on my day-to-day happiness if I "chose" to allow them to.

Yes! I discovered the great news is you do have a choice!

Robert Holden, Ph.D., has a wonderful exercise in his book Be Happy. He asks, "On a scale of 0-10, how happy have you decided to be today?" Honestly, the first time I heard this, I have to admit, I had NEVER given it a thought. And, that is a BIG problem, especially for family caregivers. We wake up already programmed to face challenges, time schedules, family and work responsibilities, fears and questions. And, when the day is over, we must recharge and get ready for the next day. Now is the time to CHOOSE a better way to live and to become a better person to yourself and the loved one in your care.

"Choose To Be Happy" is more than a feel-good slogan. When it becomes a way of life I guarantee it will significantly improve your ability to handle the many twists and turns you experience as a family caregiver.

Here are six easy practices I encourage you to explore and make a part of your daily routine:

1. Define happiness for YOU.
2. Prioritize areas in your life that bring you enjoyment. Don't give up on these pleasures.
3. Focus on what you can control, do your best to accept what you cannot.
4. Practice gratitude daily.
5. Give encouragement to at least two people every day.
6. Choose to be happy TODAY. Stay in the present.

Starting today, I invite you to work on these six practices for seven consecutive days. I am positive you will be very happy that you did!

Help Yourself. Help Others.

For more by Victor Imbimbo, click here.

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